• Laozi and the 2020 Election

    When Taoists need to make an important political decisions, they will more than likely refer to the “I Ching.” Now some of you may not be Taoist but merely admirers or even followers of Laozi and the Tao Te Ching, interested in his outlook on spirituality and the deeper questions of life and death.  But far be it from Laozi to be concerned only with spiritual matters. Throughout the Tao Te Ching, Laozi has interspersed his opinions of various forms of governing and imparticular of the character and qualities of the ideal ruler. This brings us to the 2020 Presidential Election.
     
    You may very well have your mind made up as to who you would like to lead this nation over the next four years. Even so, you may find it curious as to how Laozi, himself, would vote. If that is the case, look no further than Chapter 26. I am going to present two versions of that chapter by Lin Yutang and D. C. Lau respectfully.
     
    The Lin Yutang version:
     
    26. Heaviness and Lightness
    The Solid is the root of the light;
    The Quiescent is the master of the Hasty.
     
    Therefore the Sage travels all day
    Yet never leaves his provision-cart. 
    In the midst of honor and glory,
    He lives leisurely, undisturbed.
     
    How can the ruler of a great country
    Make light of his body in the empire [50]?
    In light frivolity, the Center is lost;
    In hasty action, self-mastery is lost.
     
    The D. C. Lau version:
     
    The heavy is the root of the light;
    The still is the lord of the restless.
     
    Therefore the gentleman when traveling all day
    Never lets the heavily laden carts out of his sight.
    It is only when he is safely behind walls and watch-towers
    That he rests peacefully and is above worries.
    How, then, should a ruler of ten thousand chariots
    Make light of his own person in the eyes of the empire?
     
    59b] If light, then the root is lost;
    If restless, then the lord is lost.
     
    In the first line of the his translation, Yutang uses the word “solid,” which he states refers to “heavy” or “heaviness” and “thickness.” In Chinese culture, both of these words refer to character – the heaviness or thickness of character – meaning honesty and generosity, which leads to stable luck and endurance. All favorable qualities to have in a nation’s leader. However, lightness or thinness of character refer to frivolity or sharpness and lead to unstable luck and fleetingness, idleness, impotence and incompetence.
     
    Commentator and scholar Keping Wang in his book “Reading the Dao,” had a different take on the words heavy and light. Wang states that in ancient times, heavy and light referred to two types of chariots, just like today we have light trucks and heavy trucks. The light chariots were those on the frontlines, engaging the enemy while the heavy chariots were used as support, carrying the army’s supplies and provisions. Therefore, the heavy chariots in a sense are the root of the light ones.
     
    Extending this context to the topic at hand, namely the governing process and the rulers of state, the terms heavy and light serve as metaphors for two approaches to the system of government. The heavy chariots are analogous to the ruler while the light chariots represent the courtiers and various administrators.
     
    Keping Wang states: “The ruler is advised to keep power for the governance and administration under his control even when the subordinates are sent around to handle different types of tasks. In this respect the ruler seems to act as the mind and the subordinates as the limbs. Coinciding with Lin  Yutang’s assertion that heavy and light also refer to stability and instability, Wang writes: “When the former strategy (heaviness) is applied, the power structure social stability will be secured. If by any chance the latter (lightness, frivolity) is applied, it will give rise to political disorder and social chaos.” Both of which the nation is now experiencing.
     
    In the last two lines of Chapter 26, Yutang writes light is associated with frivolity and that hasty in this context means rushing about. D. C. Lau translates it as restless. Wang on the other hand contends that light and hasty again refer to “two opposite approaching to governance.”
     
    “One is reasonably cool-minded and carefully observant while the other rather rash and harsh in both making decisions and conducting the affairs of state. The contradictions between them are ostensible. With the former favored and the latter rejected, Laozi persistently advises the ruler to adopt his political philosophy of take-no-(arbitrary)-action, which he thinks is the general principle of competent and good governance.”
     
    Since the ruler functions as the hub of the state’s government, according to Wang, what he does will affect the whole of the government and hence the nation. If he governs in a light and hasty manner, as Laozi warns against, he will plunge the whole country into chaos. Again, isn’t this just what we are seeing now in America?
     
    So, if you would like to know how Laozi would cast his vote, just ask yourself which candidate:
    – Has the heavier character? Honest, generous, stable?
    – The lighter character? Frivolous and unstable?
    – Is more cool-minded and observant in making decisions and conducting affairs of state?
    – Is likely to make harsh and rash decisions?
    – Is likely to bring social stability to the nation?
    – Is likely to give rise to political disorder and social chaos?
     
    Got the answer?